The detrimental effect of acute stress on response inhibition when exposed to acute stress: an event-related potential analysis

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Response inhibition as a core cognitive function plays a critical role in our daily activities. However, response inhibition can be easily altered when exposed to acute stress. The current study investigated how and whether or not acute stress impacted response inhibition and the underlying neural mechanism with behavioral and event-related potential methods. Healthy participants were assigned randomly to a modified Trier Social Stress Test as a stressor and a control condition. Then, event-related potentials were measured when participants performed a modified Go/No-Go task. In this task, participants were informed to make or withhold a response according to the colored frame of three different emotional pictures: negative, neutral, and positive. Increased negative effect in the stress condition compared with the control condition indicated a successful acute stress induction. The stress group showed significantly smaller frontal and central N2 mean difference waves, relatively less positive parietal P3 mean difference waves, and prolonged N2 and Nogo-P3 latency compared with the control group. In addition, the reaction time in ‘Go’ trials was correlated negatively with N2 and P3 difference waves in the stress group. Behaviorally, acute stress did not influence response times and miss rates of ‘Go’ trials as well as the rate of false alarms in ‘No-Go’ trials. These findings suggested that acute stress impaired conflict detection, monitoring processes, and response inhibition processes on the neural level without a behavioral performance deficit. These findings provide neural evidence for understanding how the dynamic processes of acute stress influence response inhibition.

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